TL; DR(eview) - Golf Story is a charming little 16-bit golf RPG with a lot of great little absurd humor and enjoyably challenging courses and side quests.
If you’re looking for a golf game where you’ll lose a portion of your winnings to your (ex?) wife, train under a Coach who has no faith in you, and re-animate the dead by chipping golf balls into their eye sockets, Golf Story is the game for you. These are just a few examples of the many moments Golf Story had me laughing at this wonderful weird story. Following a brief tutorial where you learn the basics as a child, the game skips forward some thirty years and your player character has decided to return to the game of his youth. Your quest to the pro tournament won’t be easy though as you’ll have to impress a wide variety of characters across the small golf course-filled island you live on.
As you journey through the game’s eight unique courses, you’ll occasionally be tasked with a variety of challenges, fetch quests, matches, and tournaments. Successfully completing these items will net you both cash and experience. Cash can be used at the occasional Pro Shop to purchase upgraded clubs (grouped into four segments: woods, irons, wedges, and putter), while the experience will let you level up your character. Each level earns you five stat points that can be assigned among your player’s Power, Purity, Strike, Ability, and Spin traits.
Power fuels your drive (and will also occasionally offset the other traits, pushing them out of balance), Purity effects your slice/hook, Strike effects the accuracy of your swing, Ability drives the degree control, and Spin effects how much spin you can put on a ball to curve your shot. Admittedly, I kept my character mostly balanced throughout his 35 levels, never pouring too many points into one category. Additionally, the number of items you can purchase throughout the game is actually fairly limited. Some items you’ll need to purchase will drive your quest forward while others will net you a new set of upgraded clubs costing maybe upwards of $120. But the side quests and challenges are so abundant I was never hurting for cash and I ended the game with over $2,000 extra and nothing to spend it on.
The golfing itself is fairly standard for the genre (at least based on my limited experience with it). Played entirely on the 2-dimensional plane, you’ll start by selecting your club, with a handy circle showing approximately where a full-powered perfect swing would land. You can adjust the direction if you want to account for wind or slope (shown via simple icons on the screen - or you can gauge the wind by the sway of surrounding trees). From here you can alter your spin and/or adjust the precision (a handy tool that will move the target in and show you exactly where on the power gauge to hit for your adjusted target). Then it’s your standard “Press A to start the gauge, Press A again to set your power at the appropriate time, and Press A back at the starting point to set your accuracy.”
Each of the game’s 9-hole courses will throw different challenges at you in the form of the environment or even unique potential hazards on the course. For example, the first course you find yourself at - Wellworn Grove - will have you avoiding the occasional mole. If you land a shot in within the mole’s radius, it will pop out of its spot to grab your ball and move it into a nearby sand trap. The Bermuda Isles are a beach-set course that will have you carefully hitting from island to island to avoid the extra strokes cause by a Water Hazard. And Coldwind Wastes will pit you against a snowy course complete with a slipper ice-laden fairway that’ll will have your ball bouncing and skidding around the surface. Every course throws something new your way, keeping the game fresh throughout the campaign.
As mentioned at the top, a lot of the charm from this game comes from the writing and humor scattered throughout. The game never takes itself seriously and I loved just how much everybody in this little world thinks your character is a laughing stock as you try to challenge the far more famous Max Yards, who is almost always surrounding by a camera crew as he tries to sell his audience his sponsored gear. The humor occasionally even drives some of the games more challenging scenarios. You’ll occasionally be partnered up for pairs matches with NPCs who will take the first swing leaving you to complete the hole. And they’ll inevitably be terrible so you wind up starting each hole with this handicap and having to claw your way back to the green from a wasted stroke. It was frustrating but also hilariously watching a hoity-toity old timer swing with all his might only for the ball to travel a dozen yards or so, and then basically brag that slow and steady wins the race.
If you’re a fan of quirky little golf games, this is definitely a worthy addition to your digital collection. Even after completing the campaign and having done pretty much every challenge I could find, I still find myself unwinding after a long day by hopping into the game’s Quick Play mode for a nice little 9-hole round of golf.